Doctrine of Harmonious Construction


This post has been created by Monesh Kumar, a third year law student from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi.

Life blossoms when it is in a state of harmony and balance. – Angie Karan Krezos”


Law may be understood as a gizmo to keep the society in tranquility and mess free and to prevent conflicts between people by regulating their behavior. The laws enacted to regulate the society are drafted by legal experts and it can very well be foreseen that many of the laws enacted will not be specific and will contain ambiguous words and expressions. Quite often we find that the courts and lawyers are busy in unwinding the meaning of such words and expressions and in resolving fickleness. All this has led to the formulation of certain rules of interpretation of statutes.

No problem arises when the words have a singular meaning only, but those with plural meanings require the basic earmark of the conveyor to be understood.

Government has three parts, namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The role of interpretation of statutes comes into play and is of paramount importance for the judiciary to render justice correctly by interpreting the statutes in the way the situation demands.

Meaning and Scope

To avoid ambiguities, the legislation has provided us with the primary rules of interpretations. “HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION” is one such rule where it is held that if two or more than two provisions of the same act are inconsistent with each other then it must be interpreted in such a manner that effect should be given to both.

According to this rule, a statute should be read as a whole and one provision of the Act should be construed with reference to other provisions in the same Act so as to make a consistent enactment of the whole statute. Such an interpretation is beneficial in avoiding any inconsistency or repugnancy either within a section or between a section and other parts of the statute. The five main principles of this rule are:

  1. The courts must avoid any clash of seemingly contradicting provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions so as to harmonize them (CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers, (2003) 3 SCC 57, p. 74.)
  1. The provision of one section cannot be used to defeat the provision contained in another unless the court, despite all its effort, is unable to find a way to reconcile their differences.
  2. When it is impossible to completely reconcile the differences in contradictory provisions, the courts must interpret them in such as way so that effect is given to both the provisions as much as possible (Sultana Begum v. Premchand Jain, AIR 1997 SC 1006, pp. 1009, 1010.)
  3. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or dead is not harmonious construction (CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers, (2003) 3 SCC 57, p. 74.)
  4. To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it fruitless.

Venkatarama Iyer, J., “The rule of construction is well settled that when an enactment there are in an enactment two provisions which cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be so interpreted that, if possible, effect should be given to both. This is what is known as the rule of harmonious construction.”Venkataramana Devaru v. State of Mysore, AIR 1958 895.

The doctrine is associated with two Latin maxims:

  1. Generalia specialibus non derogant:  The general rule to be followed in case of conflict between two statutes is that the later repeals the earlier one. In other words, a prior special law would yield to a later general law, if either of the two following conditions is satisfied :
  2. The two are inconsistent with each other.
  3. There is some express reference in the later to the earlier enactment.
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If either of these two conditions is fulfilled, the later law, even though general, would prevail.

  1. Generalibus specialia derogant: The OSBORN’S Law Dictionary defines this maxim as, “Special things derogate from general things.”

The explanation of the same can be given from the case of State of Rajasthan v. Gopi Kishan Sen, in which the Supreme Court observed that “the rule of harmonious construction of apparently conflicting statutory provisions is well established for upholding and giving effect to all the provisions as far as it may be possible, and for avoiding the interpretation which may render any of them ineffective”.

In the instant case, Rule 29 of the Rajasthan Services Rules, 1951 dealing with the payment of increment is in general terms while the schedule in the Rajasthan Civil Services (New Pay Scales) Rules, 1969 makes a special provision governing the untrained teachers, attracting the maxim ‘Generalibus specialia derogant’ i.e., if a special provision is made on a certain subject, that subject is excluded from the general provision.

Procedure to give effect to the doctrine:

The principle of harmonious construction requires the following four steps to have an effect:

1 That both the provisions which are conflicting must be read as a whole with reference to the entire enactment in question.

  1. Give full effect to both of them and then reduce the conflict.
  2. Out of the two conflicting provisions choose wider and narrower scope of these two separately and,
  3. From the wider provision, subtract the narrow and see the consequence. If the consequence is as reasonable as to harmonize both the provisions and it gives their full effect separately, no further scrutiny is required.


According to this doctrine the courts must try to avoid conflicts between the provisions of the statutes. Statutes are drafted by the legislature and there is anticipation of situations of ambiguity, conflicts, repugnancy, redundancy etc. In such situations, the rules of interpretation of statutes come into role and the provisions are construed so as to give maximum effect to them and to render justice to the situation at hand. The principle of harmonious construction plays a very important role in interpreting statutes and is used in many cases. It helps in simplifying complex issues and makes delivering judgment as much easier.

Therefore, like the many rules of interpretation of statutes, the importance of the rule of harmonious construction is also understood and felt by the judiciary. Thus the provisions must be so interpreted that the conflict between the two is avoided and each of them is given effect and, for that purpose the scope and meaning of one may be restricted to the extent as to give meaning to the other too.


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